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A few simple tips for writers to follow

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Wed Jun 15, 2011 2:57 pm
Dynamo says...

This topic ties in with the one napalmerski posted back in September: topic69390.html I'm making this topic as a way to point out the things that I think aspiring writers should keep in mind that wasn't touched on quite as strongly in napalmerski's list. This isn't going to be one of those things that points out the importance of proper grammar or spelling. Instead I'm going to focus on more broader issues. Hopefully this can help some of you new writers out there.

1. Experience is Key

Like any skill, experience is the most important thing you can have. While reading lots of books and writing lots of literary projects is something every writer should do, they shouldn't limit themselves to just that. There is no such thing as bad experience, and you can learn just as much from other medium sources that you can with books. One example that stands out in my mind is the game Dragon Age: Origins. The developers of that game took their time creating their characters, and it definitely shows. Even on my second play-through I often found myself talking to everyone in my camp to find out more about their personal histories. Half of the intrigue came from the information itself, but the other half come from how they presented it. When talking to Alistair the Templar you can tell that behind his witty attitude there is a tortured soul that mourns for the death of his mentor Duncan, who died during the battle of Ostagar. (For those of you who haven't played the game, this isn't a spoiler so don't worry. It literally happens at the beginning of the game.) What I wouldn't give to have a character with that much personality in the novel I'm writing right now.

In short, go to the movies sometime, or go to your local Blockbuster and rent a game. You may just learn something you wouldn't have by simply reading a book. And even if you absolutely hated that movie or game, at least you'll have an example of what not to do.

2. See the World

This kind of ties in with the first point. While experience from any source of median is good, nothing can beat real life. A good novelist should also be a good observer, watching the people around him and how they interact with each other. After all, writers write best when they're writing from information that they experienced directly. Even something as simple as talking to your friend can be used as a reference when thinking about how the characters in your story should interact. I'm reminded of a story I once heard about a famous writer who walked into a bar one day, though I can't remember who, and sat down to talk with the bartender. Everyone else in the bar knew who it was, and after he left they all went up to the bartender to ask what they were talking about. All the bartender could say was, "He wanted to know what my job was like."

You see what he did there? Instead of drowning his sorrows or flabbing his gap to the bartender about his own problems, or whatever it is that people in bars do, he used this as a chance to learn more about a profession he was unfamiliar with. What could have been just a simple trip to the bar turned into a valuable source of material for one of his future works.

3. Know Your Philosophy

A basic understanding about philosophy and psychology can be useful when shaping a character's beliefs and behaviors. I myself recently went to the bookstore and picked up a book called: "Green Lantern & Philosophy." it talks about the philosophy behind the DC Comic's Green Lantern's rings of power and the implications that having a ring that's power is only limited by its user's imagination might have. For a fantasy writer like myself, it's interesting to know more about how these weapons of massive power can effect society, because in my book there's a weapon that's pretty much the same, a sword that holds the powers of fire, thunder, ice, darkness, and light, and is as strong as the person who wields it. How would society act if the the very sword from their legends was being hauled around somewhere in the world by some stranger? What if they thought that person was a hero who wants to protect the world? What if they think he's a villain who wants to use the sword's powers to destroy? And most importantly, what effect would having access to such power have on the person holding it?

Whether you know it or not, these issues have all been explored time and time again, and you need only look for these studies to find more information relative to your story. For those of you in college, for one of your mandatory credits choose a humanities class, or some other kind of psychology or philosophy class. For those of you in high school who have one, go join the debate club. It's a great way to explore ethics and the ways certain issues may benefit or harm society. For everyone else, just go to your local book store and find a book on the subject. Like I said before, there's no such thing as bad experience.

4. Research

Even writers of fantasy works have something to gain from doing research on things that exist in the real world. Plan on making up a civilization? Do research on civilizations today, or from hundreds of years ago. Trying to create a new kind of animal or monster? Look for information about similar existing animals or mythical beasts. If you can think up something on your own without having to use information from pre-existing things and still make it believable, props to you. But for everyone else you're going to have to do your research. Genuinely original ideas are extremely difficult to come across these days, so the best thing we can do instead is take information from things we know and somehow tweak it to make our own. For this example, I'm going to use my own story that I'm writing. My story takes place on the super continent of Pangaea sometime between the early and mid-Jurassic era, with humans living in a world with dinosaurs as the prominent wildlife. The first thing I did was do some research on Pangaea itself, the shape of its landmass, it's various climates, wildlife and plant life, etc. Then I went to the museum to do research on said wildlife and plant life, figuring out which dinosaurs and plants lived in the time frame of my world. Once that was done I went home and did even more research on those creatures, looking each one up on Wikipedia to learn more about their anatomy, size, suspected behaviors while they were alive, then gave it a name the natives would call it and give it a purpose in their world. For example, the camptosaurus are called trags and act as the native's primary source of cattle and beasts of burden, due to them being docile plant eaters, and the allosaurus is called therasus and is a vicious predator in the wild, but when tamed they act as a great means of personal travel and mounted combat. That's not to say all of my creatures are historically accurate. I also have giant sand worms that live in the desert, different species of dragons, and a creature I based off of the T-rex, which obviously didn't live in that era.

For those of you doing more historically accurate stuff you'll have to find more credible sources of information, but for those of you working on fiction and fantasy Wikipedia is your best friend. The more information you can formulate for your world, it's inhabitants and their beliefs, wildlife, etc., the more the finished product will benefit from it. Remember, just because something isn't real doesn't mean it can't feel real. It's the writer's job to craft a believable story in a world that the reader will never see with their own eyes.

5. Practice Makes Perfect

You've heard this advice thousands of times, but it really can't be stressed enough. No one can pick up a pen and write literature gold just like that, just like nobody can pick up a paintbrush and create a masterpiece without any painting experience. Sure you may get the rare child prodigy that spits out a best seller now and then, but I'm sure any writer worth his salt will tell you that you need to practice your writing skills for years before you can create something wonderful. Anyone who is a member of this site has been writing since they were young, and those of you who have been here for years will see a noticeable difference between the stuff they posted when they first joined and the stuff they're posting right now. That's not to say that all new members post bad stuff, some of it may be really good. The point I'm trying to get across is that everyone reading this can always find a way to improve their craft, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this, right? When first starting out with writing, you should use this time as a time of experimentation. Write whatever you want, however you want. That way you can find out later what stuff is good, and what stuff you can't believe you thought of while sober. I myself have had to go through this. I'll admit that I wrote a few stories and participated in a few storybooks that, how do I put this politely... am not very proud of. In fact, I may go as far as saying I have nothing but contempt for those failures. At one point I did a Final Fantasy 8 fan fiction that I still cringe over whenever I think about it.

But this is a good thing. Through finding out what works and what doesn't you start to find out the things you should do, or more likely what you shouldn't do, when writing your future works. The best thing I can suggest to any aspiring writers is to start doing short stories and joining storybooks here on YWS. I myself have learned just about everything I know about writing from participating in storybooks with my friends. And don't freak out if someone critiques your work a little harshly. Yes, the people who say "This sucks" without giving any reasons are simply there to troll you, but the rest of us decent human beings are only trying to help you. Take your critiques with a grain of salt, you can only benefit from the advice others give you. The worst thing you can do is hide away your work and let no one else see it. You'll eventually get so attached to it that you won't be able to see its flaws. For a writer that's the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.

I hope you guys can find something you can take home from this list. YWS has helped me so much since I first joined in 2006, I figured it's time for me to give something back. :D
Last edited by Dynamo on Fri Jul 08, 2011 12:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Thu Jun 16, 2011 3:33 am
AyumiGosu17 says...

Great pointers, Dynamo. These are all something that every writer should consider and know about. :D
"Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." Timothy 4:14 KJV

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